NEXTA blogger in Studio X97.
The interview with the most popular Belarusian blogger Stsiapan Sviatlou (NEXTA) opens the new video project of the website Charter97.org - Studio Х97. Yauhen Klimakin is the host.
- Stsiapan, you are the author of the most popular Telegram and YouTube channels in Belarus. Tell me, please, when did you have the feeling that you can have a real impact on people, on the situation?
- There wasn’t such a specific moment for me to feel that there was any influence. But the first realization that what I'm doing is important, it came, probably, with the first tens of thousands of views. When people began to actively repost my publications in their social media, and thanks to this, growth began. And when they started writing in the comments: “Thank you for opening our eyes - we knew nothing about this before.”
This gave a lot of energy, motivation to move forward. There was also a realization that this was important.
- What about Telegram?
- I did not count on Telegram at all. I came to Telegram because they began to crush YouTube. That is, the state channels began to throw strikes, so I started luring subscribers to Telegram. I can say, they came because of strikes.
And one of the first publications there was from students. I believe they drove students to the vine harvesting. In the end, literally two hours later after the post had been published, they were told: “That's it, there will be no harvesting anymore”. They seem to have been scared out there.
Probably, at that time it also came to the realization that this is some kind of tool that also helps people.
- Was there a post that “blew up” your Telegram?
- Yes, I will probably never forget it. It was May 16 or 17, 2019 - when a traffic policeman was kidnapped. Of course, at first I did not believe it - for me it was generally something. Well, how could someone have been abducted in a peaceful and stable Belarus? In the end, yes - I did not believe it. But then, when confirmation came, I posted it, published it.
- How many subscribers came then?
- Then in one night, in my opinion, 20 thousand people came.
- You publish in your social networks. I wonder what you feel at this time?
- I feel good that this power is trembling with the need to do something, and they don’t know what. They start running around, making calls. And, you know, when they do not trust each other, they stop signing their official letters, because they are afraid that this will get into the Telegram channel. And everyone will be in the know after that.
They ask: “Where did the information come from?” From the Telegram channel. And they begin to subscribe. That is, the authorities themselves essentially contribute to the growth of the number of subscribers - thanks!
- Yesterday you posted your new film “Lukashenka. Criminal materials”. You are 21 years old, Lukashenka has been in power for 25 years. That is, many of the topics that appeared there, those events occurred when you were not born yet. Tell me, what touched you the most as a human, when you worked with these materials?
- You know, this is very sad. I was motivated by the fact that nothing has changed in 25 years. I am 21 years old and I want to somehow help my country.
When I worked with these materials, I was most struck by the story of Zianon Pazniak. I heard about it briefly before, but then I learned in more detail that Lukashenka personally comes to prison # 1, where executions are being carried out. Belarus is the only country in Europe that still has the death penalty. And he personally watches how this happens. Perhaps not every time - but there it is described in detail. Yes, I heard it before, but somehow I could not believe it. But then, when I began to compare all these facts and when Lukashenka personally said: “I would have shot these ministers on the spot” ... This is a fact.
- The film ends with the words: “Lukashenka is afraid, he understands that his time is running out.” What makes you think so?
- A lot of factors. First of all, Lukashenka talks about this himself. You know, a whole movie could be built on his phrases, including the things he said against himself.
Now in Belarus there is a parliamentary “election” campaign going on. Lukashenka officially said that this is a rehearsal of the presidential “election”. And at this rehearsal, unwanted candidates are already being withdrawn: they simply refuse to register without giving reasons, and they remove their speeches from television broadcasts.
That is, it is clear that if Lukashenka is afraid of even a non-important TV channel that few people actually watch, it seems to me he is trembling with fear. He constantly mentions the election next year, that we need to prepare for it, that this will be a “test for the authorities” - Lukashenka always thinks about the election.
- What about the environment?
- Lukashenka’s environment does not think independently. It thinks after Lukashenka says something. It says: “Yes, that’s right, he said this, and we thought so, too.”
That is, the environment will adapt to him, and it is unlikely to make any independent decisions. The “Parliament” is merely a puppet, all officials are controlled. He has a personnel register of officials who should not be touched at all - he himself admitted this.
- There is such a stereotype - I have heard this more than once - that the KGB controls just everyone, everyone is being watched. Do you think this is true?
- No that's not true. In fact, the Belarusian KGB disseminates such information to pursue their interests, to make people distrust each other - that is, “divide and conquer”. They are much more frail than I could have imagined - judging by what they are trying to do.
For example, they try to anonymize the source. They take a “random” person from Instagram - they have a base, so they check him through it - he had some kind of offense: for example, drinking alcohol. And they say: “Ah, here he is - an alcoholic. And he writes stuff in communities”. Nobody believes in such nonsense. Who watches this? 100 people.
The Belarusian KGB is not capable of much: they cannot carry out any special operations, significant for the country. Some corrupt officials are being detained, and the reason for corruption is different, the corruption goes to the very top in every problem.
“Why is it so bad? - Well, officials ... - Why officials? “Well, there is someone higher ...” Higher, higher - and so it always reaches the very top. That is, if they say why you always blame Lukashenka - because all the problems ultimately rest at the very top.
- And how do you assess the state of the “vertical” that you are talking about?
- The situation is such that 90% of people in Belarus do not support Lukashenka at all. I do not say they are against him, but 90% do not support the man. And 10% are just the remaining officials, some kind of convinced military, his staff, security services, members of their families.
Everything is fine with them, in principle. They don’t see that the collective farms workers have a salary of 90-100 dollars, that people are leaving the country - I showed everything in my last film - and we hold record places for drunkenness and migration.
The life is simply unbearable. Unfortunately, people are leaving the country because of this. And Belarus has not only ceased to develop - it is degrading even more. Although, it would seem - where more?
- You have said you used to be cautious when choosing words, and then stopped worrying in this regard. What happened? Was there any particular moment when you stopped being cautious in your posts, your videos?
- This was after the search in February 2018 under the article “insulting the president”. It happened two days after I had left Belarus, although they could have come when I was still there. After that, I realized that it was a clear sign that I should not return to Belarus.
From that moment I have not come back. And, of course, I started making sharper videos, I'm not shy about the wording. If before I did not call Lukashenka a dictator openly, now I’m saying it out right: the usurper, the dictator who seized Belarus.
- There are so many of him in your videos, programs - do you not see him in your dreams?
- I think this happened once, he said: “Well, why are you doing this? Perhaps it’s enough already - do you understand that maybe not everything is true there? ” I was thinking what to answer him, and at that moment I woke up, thank God.
- I understand that you are dreaming - and, in fact, talking about it - about Belarus without Lukashenka. When this day comes, in your opinion, what is the first thing to do?
- As soon as this day comes, I will immediately return to Belarus. And together with those people who were once removed from power, with those who are promoting some ideas, but nobody is hearing them at the moment, we will think about how to get out of the situation that has developed. But the situation is very sad and so far there is no quick way out of it at all.
- Do you know such people? Because I have heard more than once that the field has been so mopped up by the authorities that, in fact, there is nobody.
- In general, Lukashenka tried in every possible way to discredit the opposition - that they receive grants, that they do not care about people. Despite this, people still do not believe Lukashenka. However, at the same time, we can say they do not trust the opposition either,, sadly enough.
For some reason now they say: “And who, if not Lukashenka?” There is no definite answer to this question, because, indeed, there is no figure of the same scale. In principle, it cannot be under the conditions that exist in Belarus today.
- Is such a figure needed in a democratic state?
- Well, yes: do we need such a strong figure? At the same time, if there is a parliamentary republic, there are pros and cons. You just need to take an example from developed countries that also succeeded.
- How did you end up in Poland?
- I came to Poland consciously in 2015 - I wanted to get a normal education. Not like they provide in Belarus: like at the Institute of Culture. I wanted to develop precisely in the creative plan, in the video - this is what I have always been interested in. What I essentially did since childhood.
- And where did you go?
- Previously, it was called the “Faculty of Radio and Television” at the University of Katowice. Now it is called the Katowice Film School.
- Do your fellow students generally know who is studying with them? Do they know what you do?
- In fact, it began at the end of the first year, when I started to publish the videos periodically. Before that they did not know. But then some found out, because on Facebook, if one of the friends tags a video, the rest ask what it is.
After they wanted to open a criminal case for “insulting” Lukashenka, of course, people starting asking me on Facebook, like, “How are you, what will you do?”
That is, for them it’s generally some kind of outer space - that there is some kind of case for “insulting the president”. There are no such articles in developed countries. It’s difficult to explain to Europeans what is happening in Belarus.
- Stsiapan, do you have a feeling that the KGB, the Belarusian Interior Ministry are playing according to your rules?
- I would not say that they play according to my rules, they are rather forced to adapt. Because, for example, internal documents that were previously sent to all employees about some incidents with personnel, police officers - for example, someone got caught drunk driving - this was all told, explained to people.
After policemen started sending me these documents, they hid everything. Now only top management, the commanding staff have access to them. Nevertheless, absolutely exclusive materials were sent from Lukashenka’s residences - photographs taken during the construction, they sent photos of secret data from the KGB.
That is, all this is not to their benefit. I might not have published this, but since they continue to put pressure on people, I have to somehow answer: with their methods, in fact.
- How do you filter information? Because there may be some kind of disinformation, maybe a fake.
- Yes of course. Moreover, people purposefully send fake news to me in order to discredit, and then say: “Look - half of his posts are lies!” But, nevertheless, more than 90% of the information is checked. Yes, sometimes it happens that Akela gets a miss, but most of the information is confirmed.
I worked out a strategy - I cannot fully disclose it, so that they cannot oppose it with something. These are several sources, plus a database of reliable people - relatively speaking, from medicine, police, and education - who can be consulted, who have access to these orders.
They are inside the system, but despite this, they are against it. That is, there are a sufficient number of such people, and they (the authorities - edit.) are very afraid of this.
- Did you look for these people or was it all unilateral: do they write to you, turn to you, send you photographs, documents, screenshots?
- People send materials themselves, they are probably tired of being afraid. Because earlier it was unrealistic to imagine something like that. That someone will leak internal documents, not value their job - because this is a rather big threat.
At the same time, it is clear that there is trust. People trust that I will not rat out an informant, that it will all be anonymous, that I will airbrush what needs to be airbrushed. Yes, there is a minus that there are too many messages. And 90% of these messages, unfortunately, do not fit the format. Many people are offended when some posts are not published.
- And these people, how many of them are? Hundreds, dozens, thousands?
- It’s hard to count - there can be a thousand of these people today, and five thousand tomorrow. That is, it depends on the topic of the post. If something touches people, really hurts, they say: “This is a little wrong - I have better access to this information - I need to correct it.” I say: “Thank you very much.” And add them to my contact list. There are more and more of them every day.
- But there are thousands in your phone book?
- Somewhere like that - about a thousand.
- The most ridiculous fake?
- The most ridiculous one was probably when they wrote on behalf of Kolya Lukashenka: “Hi, I'm Kolya Lukashenka. I am writing from under the covers, Telegram is forbidden here, but I somehow managed to log in. Advise what to do so that dad embarks on the true path, mend his ways.”
Of course I say: “Kolya, you are a good boy. Get lost.”. Then I thought, because he no longer wrote: “Or maybe he really was Kolya Lukashenka? I should have asked for a photo.”
- They are spreading various fakes about you.
- You know, the Belarusian KGB is so “inventive” that they can do nothing better than blaming a person for non-traditional sexual orientation. They accused me of this for half a year - they have their own channels, publics - and then abruptly stopped.
- How do you see your life, how do you imagine yourself in five years, ten years: where are you, what are you doing?
- I don't like to plan like that. Because if five years ago I would be asked to tell you what I’ll do in five years, I would never in my life ...
- ... Okay, are you in Poland or Belarus in five years?
- I would like it to be Belarus.
- You are making a video: is it some kind of “documentary” or are you already a director of the Belarusian television?
- If you go to television - although it is already essentially an outgoing format - to develop precisely the format of independent news. Because the information field of Belarus is very stagnant and, unfortunately, there are no prerequisites so far to fix this.
- Has it happened that those persons whose crimes of abuse of power you disclose in your publications lost their jobs?
- Yes. Basically, these were “pro-government” figures who believed that everything was allowed to them. One dictaphone recording was enough, so that they were no longer at this workplace.
In my opinion, the Headmaster of the Shchuchyn school - there was such a resonant post about how he obscured and insulted the student in every way. That is - yes, this happens, but those people who leaked information are not found.
- How do you plan to develop your Telegram channel?
- There are many ideas. A population census is being conducted in Belarus - there is also a lot of trash on the channel. But I want my census: the census of subscribers. A real census, not such a fake one, which is now being conducted in Belarus. That is, to learn more about people specifically.
Because Telegram does not specifically indicate gender, age. I want to know what kind of people they are, their age, hobbies, what they think of this or that moment.
- Have they tried to hack your accounts?
- They tried to hack my Facebook account - they even cracked it for a couple of minutes. Mail.ru was hacked - I logged in six months ago, but now I can’t do it. For the whole August and September they tried to hack my account on Gmail. They did everything possible, they expected me to accidentally click the “yes, it’s me” button, but everything failed.
I am in Poland, and they can’t intercept SMS in Telegram number, plus there is a “two-factor authorization” - they have limited capabilities, and they recognize this. Through Telegram, they cannot, for example, find kladmen. That is, for them it is something unobtainable.
- Gigabytes of very unpleasant information pass through you. How do you get distracted from all this?
- I try to do something other than this. For example, I like to ride a bike.
- How many kilometers a day?
- Well, generally, 30 is desirable. But, unfortunately, a bicycle was recently stolen from me - after that I stopped being an athlete. I try (to engage in) other sports - gym, pool. Alas, all the time almost goes to the main activity.
- Your phone is your “flight control center”. Here you have a list of your acquaintances, friends, and those people who send you information. Are there people you can trust with your phone?
- There are no such people. I can show something there, but not give. I am constantly with it.
- Two years ago, a case was opened against you about “insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus.” Now there’s a new story - tell us about it.
- Now they are trying to reach me through another “court”. The so-called mayor filed a “lawsuit” - mayors in normal countries are elected, and in Belarus both Lukashenka’s chairmen of executive committees and judges are appointed.
He filed a “lawsuit” allegedly for defamation: I spread “false information” about him that he had been drunk driving - although there was a photo confirmation. Some people later expressed their indignance in the comments: “They told about it themselves ... someone told someone - his wife herself told”.
In general, they screwed up in full. But, nevertheless, they did not jail him, and I have a version of why. This was due to the fact that he is in the personnel register of Lukashenka, in which there are 850 people. And Lukashenka needs to be informed about this - he may not give consent, long procedures ...
They decided to go a different way: to say that all this is not true. They seized the documents where the survey was carried out, and said: “What evidence do you have?” There is no evidence, because I cannot disclose the source.
And now they are trying through a “court” to show - as they say, “here, untruthful information”. Plus, another task of the “court” is to prevent other media from referring to my channel.
- Do you think this is his initiative to sue you?
- Absolutely not. Because Lukashenka now has winter crops, cows and everything else. And now there is some kind of NEXTA. This was an initiative of the Security Council of Belarus, and this information was confirmed according to several sources. Not 100%, but most likely it is. They simply said that “we will not jail him, but we did what we needed”.
And, in principle, even if he wanted now to get away from it all, it will not work. Because there is incriminating evidence for every official in Belarus, according to which he can at any time - if he becomes objectionable - either go to jail, or simply lose his job.
- What does your generation think about power, about the “president"?
- In Belarus, young people - the majority with whom I communicate and my friends from school - certainly do not like what is happening. But at the same time, they are not ready to fight against it. Yes - people are against, but for some reason they are not ready yet. Why? I try to understand.
For example, recently there was a case in one of the colleges in Minsk. The teacher there began to talk bullshit at the lecture about the fact that “the Ukrainian authorities are killing people in the Donbas, bombing hospitals”. It would seem - obvious nonsense, 100% stamps of Russian propaganda - I wrote about this.
Then, in this college, they started to look for the people who leaked this information through various public in the VKontakte social network. They conducted surveys there - 95% of people said that “this teacher is right, you should not do anything against him”.
After such moments, it seems to me that I don’t understand anything about the Belarusian youth. But I want to believe that there are more progressive people. And it seems to me - this is true.
- And what does your generation care about? Because there is a stereotype of a new, young generation of nihilists who can maximum put a like to something.
- They care precisely of the social media. Therefore, it is necessary to somehow find approaches to them through social networks, via the Internet. I'm trying to do this: in an accessible language, show them what is happening, why this is happening and what can be done about it.
- Tell us about your parents: what are they doing, who are they?
- My mother worked as a teacher, then worked at the Belarusian State University - in the end, she had to quit this job.
- Is it not due to your work?
- Perhaps. Because they could not officially dismiss her - there was no reason. But they began to load her with work - it is clear that work became simply unbearable.
And dad works at the Belsat channel with me. He is a sports news anchor. He supports me in every way.
Mom used to try to say somehow: “Well, why are you doing this? Maybe it’s time to stop it, don’t do it.” And then, when she came across all this herself, she realized that if nothing was done, it would be even worse.
- And now, in fact, I think that not one person would say: “Why do you need all this? Risk, complicating your life.” Why are you doing all this by and large?
- The motivators are primarily people who write that thanks to me they understand what is happening, why it is happening. Thanks to this motivation, I continue to do this.
At a certain moment, I began to realize that it is a kind of vocation. And somehow you won’t back down anyway - if you started, then you need to either finish or give up. But I do not intend to give up. Therefore, I continue - until victory.
As you know, NEXTA invited viewers of the most popular film about Belarus to a meeting on November 8 at 6 p.m. in Freedom Square in Minsk.